St Symeon the New Theologian: On Divine Gifts
Brethren and fathers,
How great is the condescension and the love of God toward men! Before the unutterable goodness of God I am struck with amazement, I am filled with wonder. So I cry out, “O wondrous miracle, power of God’s commandments, how they change those who practice and observe them!”
Once I had started out on the way and had in slight measure returned to my senses from the abyss of evil and darkness I was obsessed with feear as I was tormented by the evils within me. Yet it was really love and striving for goodness that contributed most to turn me toward it. But all that it accomplished was a flight from evil that impelled me toward the good. In the midst of these things there was this alone that held me back—my ingrained propensities and evil habits of sensuality. By the persistent practice of prayer, the meditation on God’s oracles, and the acquiring of good habits this fades away. As the sun gradually rises the darkness recedes and disappears. So as virtue shines, evil, like darkness, is driven away and is proved to be without substance, and from then on we shall always continue in goodness just as we have previously been evil. Through a little patience and a very slight effort of will, or, rather, by the help of the living God, we are re-created and renewed. We are cleansed in soul, body, and mind, and we become that which we really are, though we know it not because we are shrouded by passions, and in addition we receive gifts of which we are not worthy.
Even I, who am of all men most insignificant and useless, have received some of these gifts—how good it is thankfully to proclaim the blessings of God, who loves men!—by the grace of my Saviour Jesus Christ. By grace I have received grace, by doing well I have received His kindness, by fire I have been requited with fire, by flame with flame. As I ascended I was given other ascents, at the end of the ascent I was given light, and by the light an even clearer light. In the midst thereof a sun shone brightly and from it a ray shone forth that filled all things. The object of my thought remained beyond understanding, and in this state I remained while I wept most sweetly and marveled at the ineffable. The divine mind conversed with my own mind and taught me, saying, “Do you realize what My power has done to you out of love for men because of but a little faith and patience that strengthens your love? Behold, though you are subject to death, you have become immortal, and though you are ruled by corruption you find yourself above it. You live in the world and yet you are with Me; you are clothed with a body and yet you are not weighed down by any of the pleasures of the body. You are puny in appearance, yet you see intellectually. It is in very deed I Who have brought you into being out of nothing.”
Saint Symeon the New Theologian, from Discourse 17